Here I will go over some of the changes that have happened to Superman in his 60 years, both in the comics and real life. This is mostly all by memory, so if you see anything that needs correction, e-mail me.
Superman was created some time in the mid 30's by teenagers Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. They first created him as a villain with superior strength and mind. The idea to make him a hero from another planet came to Jerry in the middle of the night. He woke up several times during the night with more ideas. By morning, the first real Superman story was written. He showed Joe the story, and he drew the pictures.
Within the next several months, they tried to get the story published many times, each time being rejected. One of the reasons given them was "It's not believable." It was finally published in 1938 by DC Comics, when they were known as National Periodicals. The story first appeared in Action Comics #1, and was a major success. Superman was given his very own title in 1939, called, what else, Superman. Both of these titles are still published today and are some of the longest running comic book series.
Superman's costume has gone through many changes over the years. The shield on his chest has had several different shapes. It started out resembling a police badge, then a triangle, and changed alot between 1938 and 1944, when the shield seen today was copyrighted1. A yellow version of the shield appeared on his red cape not long afterward. He also initially wore sandals instead of boots.
Other major changes have been made to Superman's powers. At first "nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin." He didn't fly, but could "leap 1/8 of a mile," and so the phrase "leaps tall buildings in a single bound" was more fitting. Toward the end of World War II, he could survive an atomic blast. He developed his other powers, such as X-ray vision and super-hearing, when writers needed them for a story. Superman also had his weaknesses. He was vulnerable to Kryptonite2, a radioactive element from his home planet Krypton, and magic.
In 1938, Superman's alter ego, reporter Clark Kent, worked at the Daily Star with reporter Lois Lane and his boss, Editor-in-chief George Taylor. Within three years, the name was changed to the Daily Planet and George Taylor became Perry White. A young copyboy was introduced in early issues, and was named a short time later as Jimmy Olsen.
In the late 40's, the writers added more to Superman's history. They created the character of Superboy, Superman as a boy. These stories also introduced us to Lana Lang, the teen-age version of Lois Lane, and gave the names of Clark Kent's parents as Jonathan and Martha.
After over 20 years of being the only survivor of Krypton, he was joined by his cousin Kara Zor-El, a.k.a. Supergirl, who had survived on a floating piece of Krypton. Not long after came Streaky the Super-cat, Krypto the Super-dog, Comet the Super-horse, and even Beppo the Super-monkey! And there were also Kryptonian criminals who were kept in another dimension called the Phantom Zone.
Of course no history would be complete without the villains. Lex Luthor was one of Superman's first regular enemies. He was a bald (although at first he had red hair) mad scientist, always with some new invention to trouble Superman. There were also the Toyman and the Prankster, with some deadly toy or annoying prank. Of course, no one was more annoying than Mr. Mxyzptlk3, an imp like being from the fifth dimension who can make almost anything happen. Other villains introduced through the years were: Brainiac, a super-intelligent android, Metallo, the cyborg with the Kryptonite heart & Bizarro, an imperfect Superman clone.
Superman was a member of the Justice Society of America during World War II, and it's early 60's equivalent, the Justice League of America. The Justice League had several members, such as: Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. The Justice League has had many versions, and JLA is one of the most popular comic series around today.
This is where things get complicated.
In 1955, DC Comics wanted to restart their heroes from scratch. Early 1940's characters, such as the Flash and Green Lantern, were restarted with different costumes and were completely separate characters. Other more popular characters, like Superman and Batman, were unchanged. So Superman fought alongside the original Flash, and also the new Flash.
The new Flash's origin story had him getting the idea of the name the Flash from reading the original in a comic book, so the original was a fictional character. How did Superman fight alongside the original Flash if he was fictional? DC saw this problem, and wanted to fix it.
There was a story in the Flash comic, in which the second Flash(II) accidentally traveled to another dimension. There he met the original Flash(I), and it was revealed that a writer in Flash II's dimension somehow had dreams of Flash I, and wrote comic books about him.
It was also explained that Flash I's world(Earth II) had doubles of the heroes of Flash II's world(Earth I)4. Some were different in some ways, but others, like Superman and Batman, had doubles that were nearly identical. The Justice Society was on Earth II with Flash I, and the Justice League was on Earth I with Flash II. This explained how Superman and others fought alongside the JSA(40's) and the JLA(60's) while not appearing older 20 years later. The JSA and the JLA had several team-ups, and visited each others dimensions.
Still with me?
So now we had two Supermen, from Earth I and Earth II. The differences were that while the Earth I Superman was in his 30's, the Earth II Superman was in his 50's, and Clark Kent of Earth II(E II) worked at the Daily Star instead of the Daily Planet. DC visited Earth II in many stories, and even had Clark Kent of E II marry Lois Lane.
Over the next two decades, DC introduced many other dimensions: There was Earth III, on which the heroes were villains, and Lex Luthor was that Earth's Superman; Earth S, where the Captain Marvel family lived, because DC bought those characters and wanted to keep the other heroes separate; and an Earth called Earth-Prime5, which was supposedly our Earth, but that later changed slightly and had at least two superheroes, including a Superboy6. There were also over a dozen more different Earths.
By 1985, this became too complicated for new readers to understand. Everyone had to keep track of which Earth the heroes lived on. DC wanted to simplify things.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths was a twelve issue, twelve month series in which they combined the Earths into one, with a single history. A villain called the Anti-Monitor was destroying the universes. The 5 Earths(and their respective universes) that were saved were combined into one. Some characters died saving the Earths, namely Supergirl and Flash II. Characters such as Earth II Superman ceased to exist, so that there would be only one version of each hero. Some of the heroes went to the dawn of time, and history was completely rewritten, with all the heroes on one Earth. Flash I existed, not on another Earth, but was a hero during the 1940's, who is still alive due to a spell, but that's a story for another website! The Marvel family lives alongside the other heroes, as well as other characters that previously lived on other Earths. Everyone forgot the other Earths ever existed, except only a handful of people, namely, the "time police" Linear Men, and the villain Psycho Pirate. The heroes only remember fighting an enemy, some heroes dying, including Supergirl, and winning.
In 1986, as a result of the Crisis, Superman was started over from scratch, and alot of his origin was changed. He didn't have most of his powers until he was 18, so he didn't become Superboy7. He was the only survivor of Krypton, so Supergirl, and all of the Super-pets, didn't exist8. Superman was made more human, and Clark Kent didn't act so mild-mannered. Superman's powers were somewhat reduced, and ridiculous (but fun!) powers such as Super-ventriloquism were gone. The Kents were younger, so they didn't die when Clark was young, and are there for him when he wants advice.
Clark left home at 18, because he wanted to use his powers to help others. He traveled around the world for 5 years, and learned several languages and studied journalism. He went to Metropolis, and graduated college with a major in journalism after only two years. During his traveling, he helped people in secret. When an experimental space plane was going to crash in Metropolis, Clark had no choice but to make his first public appearance. He created the identity of Superman, and changed the look of Clark Kent. As Clark, he wore glasses, wore a different hairstyle, and changed his mannerisms. No one suspected that Clark was Superman, and because he didn't wear a mask, no one even knew Superman had a secret identity.
Many of the villains introduced in the past were reintroduced gradually, with somewhat different origins. Lex Luthor was no longer publicly known as a criminal. He was a very wealthy businessman, who kept his criminal activity secret, and has always wanted to destroy Superman.
Lois Lane was born on a military base in Wiesbaden, West Germany, and grew up an "Army brat." Her father Sam was disappointed that he didn't have any sons, so he raised her like one. When she was 15 and her family was in Metropolis, she visited the Daily Planet offices and knew that she wanted to be a reporter. Wanting a story, Lois broke into a Lex Luthor-owned facility and stole some incriminating documents. She was caught and searched, but managed to escape with some evidence. Perry White was convinced that she would make a good reporter, and later hired her. Lois was on the space plane that Clark rescued, as a civilian observer, and she wrote the story that named him Superman. She immediately was fascinated by this strange visitor. After he reappeared with his costume, she interviewed him. Lois went to the Daily Planet with her story, but Clark already had an "interview" with him, which is what got him his job. Lois was mad at Clark for a long time because of that. She eventually got over it, and tolerated Clark. After seeing Superman at the Kent farm, she was told a cover story by Jonathan and Martha that they raised Superman with Clark. She was then angry with both Superman and Clark, thinking that their relationship caused Clark to get his many Superman stories. She stopped pursuing after Superman so intently, became friends with Clark, and later fell in love with him. Clark asked her to marry him, and after a few weeks told her that he was Superman. She later broke off their engagement for a short time and became a foreign correspondent, but they got back together and were married in 1996. She has been called in the past "Superman's Girlfriend." She also has a younger sister Lucy, and her mother Ella.
Jimmy Olsen, or "Superman's Pal," started at the Planet when he was in his mid teens. He wanted to know more about this new Superman, and a newspaper seemed to be the best place. He was a copy boy, and then became a photographer, and rose to partial fame for his pictures of Superman's death. During an emergency, Jimmy created a hypersonic signaling device to call Superman. Seeing Jimmy as a good kid, Superman gave him a signal watch, based on that device. Many things have happened to Jimmy over the years: his body was turned elastic by a space virus Superman accidentally brought to Earth; he lost his job and gained it back twice; he became Turtle Boy for a Saturday morning kid's show; been held hostage by numerous enemies of Superman's; became "Mr. Action" for WGBS television; been wanted by the criminal organization Intergang; and most recently accidentally revealed the now-resolved-and-explained-away secret that Superman is married! We can only wonder what will happen next to our hero's Pal.
Superman has many other friends: Perry White, Managing Editor of the Daily Planet; Professor Emil Hamilton, Scientist who helps Superman on many occasions; "Bibbo" Bibbowski, owner of the Ace 'O Clubs Bar and refers to Superman as his "fav'rit"; Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit; Police Commissioner Bill Henderson; Keith White, adopted son of Perry White; Ron Troupe, fellow reporter at the Daily Planet; Cat Grant, manager of WGBS.
Superman has had a very eventful life. He has lost his powers on several occasions; traveled through time to see dinosaurs, defended Camelot and met Merlin, saved President Franklin Roosevelt's life, and seen Earth's moon destroyed in the far future; transformed into an energy being, and then split in two; been to the other side of the galaxy and beyond; tried to take over the world for the good of mankind; and even died and returned! Not bad for a Kansas farmboy!
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